Yame is one of Japan’s leading producers of high-quality tea. With a population of about 60,000 people, Yame, which is about an hour away from Hakata, is also home to Kyushu’s largest concentration of traditional crafts, including washi paper, lanterns, Kurume Kasuri textiles and Buddhist altars.
Yame is a popular day-trip destination from Fukuoka, but this time, we have opted for an overnight trip so we can enjoy ourselves to the fullest without worrying about a same-day return trek.
We departed from Nishitetsu Fukuoka Station in Tenjin on the Rail Kitchen Chikugo, a train that offers a lunch made with local ingredients from along the Nishitetsu Tenjin Omuta Line.
As the view from the train window changed from the urban landscape to more residential areas and rural scenery, it started to feel like our getaway had begun.
Featuring ingredients from the Chikugo region, the lunch course started with a glass of Amaou strawberry sparkling wine. This was followed by appetizers, soup and Hakata wagyu beef, and it ended with an oven-baked pizza prepared right on the train. On the day we traveled, the pizza was topped with fragrant, tender burdock root, which has just come in season, spinach and mozzarella cheese.
After a two-hour train ride spent enjoying lunch and the scenery outside, we had shifted into travel mode. We got off the train at Yanagawa Station and took a ride along the canals in a gondola, a winter tradition in Yanagawa.
In winter, the boats are equipped with kotatsu (heated covered tables), and the boatmen guide you around the canals that crisscross the city. The crisp, cold air of the sleepy town cooled off our bodies, which had warmed up after a filling lunch on the train.
After enjoying the scenic beauty of the town, we headed to the tea production center of Yame.
Yame is a top tea producer in terms of quality. Gyokuro (the highest grade of tea) grown in Yame has won the Production Area Award at the National Tea Fair for 21 years in a row!
From the observation deck inside the Yame Chuo Tea Plantation, which covers about 70 hectares of land on gently sloping hills, you can see the tea fields spread out below you in a sea of green. The large ventilation fans that look like telephone poles are installed to prevent frost from damaging the tea leaves. These fans, which can be seen throughout the fields, direct warm air downward.
Next, we headed toward the mountains into the Okuyame region, a more rural area surrounded by natural beauty. We stayed at Yabe no Mori, an inn with single-story standalone units located along the Yabe River and surrounded by majestic mountains.
The well-kept inn features new equipment (it opened in 2018), and you are sure to relax and enjoy your stay in the spacious rooms.
For dinner, we were served a kaiseki course made using delicious local ingredients, including wild vegetables, yamame trout and rice grown in the local terraced rice paddies.
Breakfast, which was served in a room facing the Yabe River, was a Japanese set meal with rice from the terraced rice paddies accompanied by local dishes like tofu, wasabi leaves pickled in sake lees, kiriboshi daikon and more.
We checked out of the inn—even though we wanted to stay longer—and headed further up the mountain to the tea fields of Yabe.
Okuyame Bettei Yabe no Mori
3343 Yabe, Yabemura, Yame City, Fukuoka
The mountain tea fields of Yabe, a small village that is now part of Yame City, sit at an altitude of 600m! The view is so spectacular that you won’t even mind if it’s cold and snowing!
The area is covered with snow in the winter, but even in the summer, it is cool and there are few pests. This is where the family-run Chiyonoen grows its organic tea.
For lunch, we went to Saryou Chiyonoen, the cafe run by Chiyonoen.
This café was opened in 2019 because the owners wanted people to truly savor their carefully cultivated tea while experiencing the culinary culture of the Okuyame region that is slowly disappearing.
The gently flavored dishes are handmade using wild vegetables and rice grown in the terraced rice paddies of Okuyame and are served with organic tea. Don’t forget to try the handmade green tea sweets for dessert! (We recommend the original mitsumame sweets made with sencha, matcha, Japanese black tea and hojicha gelatins.)
6338 Kitaobuchi, Kurogimachi, Yame City, Fukuoka
Tea is said to have been cultivated throughout Japan since ancient times, but it was the Zen monk Eisai who brought tea seeds back from China, extolled the benefits of tea and encouraged its cultivation. In 1211, he wrote the Treatise on Drinking Tea for Health and is known as the person who spread the practice of tea drinking, which had been limited to the upper classes until then, to the general public.
The history of Yame tea dates back to 1423, when Zen monk Shuzui built Reiganji Temple (9731 Kasahara, Kurogimachi, Yame City, Fukuoka Prefecture). He gave tea seeds to the local village elder and taught him how to grow, manufacture and brew roasted tea.
In the late Edo period, the current style of brewing sencha in a kyusu pot became popular. Before that, tea leaves were boiled in hot water in a kettle to extract the ingredients.
On this trip, we also experienced a unique way to enjoy Yame gyokuro tea.
First, you pour a small amount of hot water over the tea leaves and transfer the liquid to another dish. After adding in hot water of different temperatures several times and enjoying the different flavors, the remaining tea leaves are served with simple seasonings such as soy sauce or salt.
Yame tea cafe – Okuyame Takibi no Mori Campfield
9512 Kasahara, Kurogimachi, Yame City, Fukuoka
The hamlet of Fukushima in Yame is a town of artisans. Here you can witness one of the traditional crafts that Yame takes pride in, Yame Fukushima Butsudan (Buddhist altars), and you can even make your own chopsticks.
When you make your own chopsticks, you can experience the traditional technique of raden, or sharpening and polishing wooden chopsticks coated with layers of lacquer made from abalone shells and eggshells to bring out a pattern. This is the same process used to decorate the Buddhist altars. Grinding the lacquer off the surface little by little reveals patterns from the multiple layers of lacquer and the foil and shells embedded underneath. If you polish too much, the wood below will start to show, but if you don’t polish enough, you won’t sufficiently bring out the pattern or the sheen. The young artisans taught us how to do this, and before we realized it, we were totally absorbed in the process.
Chopstick-making workshop taught by Buddhist altar artisans
Ogata Butsudan Honten
397-3 Motomachi, Yame City, Fukuoka
If you want to see more traditional crafts or pick up something special, there are few places you may want to add to your itinerary. At the Yame Traditional Craftwork Center, where you can find all the traditional crafts of the Yame region under one roof, you can watch the artisans work, shop for souvenirs or even try your hand at making washi paper. The Yame Tourist Center, which is located on the same site, offers a wide range of products including Yame tea, local sake, sweets and processed agricultural products.
Fukuyo-san of Fukuchan, a restaurant inside the tourist center that serves local dishes. Popular items include the dagojiru (hearty miso soup with dumplings), mugwort manju buns and other nostalgic dishes unique to the Yame region.
Yame Traditional Craftwork Center / The Yame Tourist Center
2-123 Motomachi, Yame City, Fukuoka